LAFAYETTE — Being the new guy isn’t always easy, especially in team sports.
It requires a certain amount of openness to quickly develop chemistry that’s required on a field or a court. It takes time to earn trust to make one a highly functioning member of a team effort.
But for some people, that part is easy. Meet Jay Hedgeman, Louisiana-Lafayette’s 6-foot-8 junior-college transfer who oozes personality.
“You can call me Hedge,” said Hedgeman as he shares a handshake and a smile with someone he’d never met before.
Hedgeman is only a few months into his time as a Cajuns basketball player, but he’s already earned the title of “favorite teammate” according to just about anybody you talk to on the team.
“He’s friendly,” senior forward Shawn Long said. “He’s kind of got an old spirit to him. He’s like an old, friendly man.”
But it’s not simply his friendliness that’s won that title. There’s another part to Hedgeman that has made his Cajuns assimilation as smooth as whipped butter.
He’s willing to do anything for a group of guys he’s just getting to know. The three-word mantra repeated over and over again by Hedgeman and his teammates to describe what made him an integral part of an experienced Cajuns squad was “whatever it takes.”
“We’re all one, you know what I mean?” Hedgeman said. “One for all or one for nothing. We’re all basically trying to work as a unit, a family. If one eats, we all eat. That’s how we do it.”
There’s no room for ego in Hedgeman’s game, and it’s endeared him to his teammates rapidly.
“Hedge is just one of those guys that will do whatever he’s got to do,” Long said. “Whatever coach assigns him to do, he gets it done. He’s hustling first of all. That’s the first thing. He hustles, he’s going to make the dirty plays. He’s not the most bulky guy, but he gets in there. That’s one of the things I like about him.”
Hedgeman said: “That’s my strength. I do whatever it takes for us to win. Defense, offense, cheering on my teammates, anything, it don’t matter. I’m going to do what it takes to win.”
Hedgeman opened some eyes in the Cajuns scrimmage win against Mississippi College, when he scored 19 points in 16 minutes off the bench. Two of those points came on a massive dunk when he sprinted down the court after throwing a long pass to Long.
Long bounced it back between his legs to a trailing Hedgeman, who threw it down with authority. The play checked in at No. 2 on SportsCenter’s top plays and sent the fans in attendance into boisterous cheers.
“I’m just as excited as (the fans) were,” Hedgeman said. “I was excited to play for them. It’s a new home for me, so I wanted to make a big impact and make a good impression for everybody.”
Those numbers haven’t quite been there in two regular season games yet. He scored 10 in the opener against Louisiana College to go with two assists, two steals and four rebounds, but he was shut out in 14 minutes against Miami.
Nights like those are going to happen, said coach Bob Marlin, who isn’t putting much emphasis on Hedgeman’s scoring numbers.
“He’s a good offensive player also, he’ll have games where he scores like he did (in the exhibition), he’ll have games where he only scores a basket or two but will make an impact on the game,” Marlin said.
For his part, Hedgeman doesn’t seem to be interested in his numbers either. The new guy has already figured out there’s only one thing that matters with his new teammates.
“I’m here to help the team,” Hedgeman said. “I want to be able to get us a ring, and I’m going to do my part.
“Whatever it takes. You can’t settle for less.”